Ryan Grigson found a gift in the trials and tribulations he faced as a football player at Purdue.
“It helped me to find out what I was truly made of, when I was pushed to the brink in every which way, mentally, physically and spiritually,” Grigson said. “It made me find out who I truly was and I build off (of) that because I know that I have inner strength, when it’s all said and done.”
This past year Grigson was awarded Sporting News’ “NFL Executive of the Year,” gaining one more vote than the Denver Bronco’s vice president of football operations John Elway. Pro Football Weekly also gives out the same award and Grigson received that as well. The general manager was humbled to receive the award.
“It’s extremely rewarding,” Grigson said. “I still really (haven’t) internalized the past year still. Last year was a great foundation for future success.”
Grigson, a Purdue alumnus, played football for the Boilermakers from 1991-1994 and played with former alumnus and future NFL fullback Mike Alstott. After graduating from Purdue, he had a short playing career due to a career-ending back injury. After several scouting and coaching jobs outside the NFL, he was hired as a scout for the St. Louis Rams, then he moved on to the Philadelphia Eagles where he worked his way up to Director of Player Personnel. In 2012, he was hired to become the general manager of the Colts after Bill Polian was let go.
Grigson said his hard work paid off as he was being promoted often. For him one of the challenges of working in football is being able to balance football with family life.
“I got married and ended up having five children,” Grigson said. “That job is more important even (than football). You can’t be a great football man, a father and human being if you don’t have the priories right and right balance in your life.”
He also faced another challenge this past season when head coach Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with cancer. The former Boilermaker also experienced a scary situation when he had a life threatening kidney ailment in his sophomore season at Purdue. This experience helped Grigson to connect with Pagano through the tough times.
“I was able to tell him ‘Listen, you’re going to be chomping at the bit to get out of here and you’re going to want to do this, you’re going to want to do that, but you have to listen to your body’,” Grigson said.
Bruce Arians, the offensive coordinator of the team that season, became the interim head coach of the team in Pagano’s absence. Under Arians, the team finished the season with an 11-5 record and a playoff berth. Grigson commended Arians’ handling of the situation.
“He handled the situation with such extreme grace and humility,” Grigson said. “And the way he took care of his buddy (Pagano) through the whole process and was a true friend to him through this whole thing and to kind of just carry the torch while (Pagano) was gone, in such an unbelievable way. I think it was ... really seeing human beings at their finest.”
In June, the National Football Foundation dinner will honor Grigson for his accomplishments in the NFL. Grigson credited his success to mental toughness.
“Mental toughness is something I want to instill in my children (and) its something that I want to instill in (the Colts) organization because it definitely gets you through when facing adversity,” Grigson said. “In this league you never know what’s around the corner and if you don’t have mental toughness, you’re not going to survive very long or be successful really in any avenue in life, let alone the National Football League.”
Jim Vruggink, chapter director for the NFF dinner, said he thinks having alumni like Grigson and Rick Smith, general manager of the Houston Texans, are a good selling point for the football coaching staff to future recruits.
“I would think that the coaching staff would use that a little bit when they’re recruiting guys,” Vruggink said. “Saying, ‘hey, if your good enough to make the NFL your going to get noticed ... we got two guys out there that are among the very best in assessing talent.’”
Also getting honored that night will be Olympic gold medalist David Boudia and reigning Miss Indiana MerrieBeth Cox. Grigson said he is fortunate to be recognized with them and others like Drew Brees who was honored in years past.
“Those are two very successful people ... (to be in) the same breath as those guys, obviously is a great thing for me and my family,” Grigson said. “I look forward to meeting them.”
Fittingly, the award the Colts general manager is receiving is the Drew Brees Mental Toughness Award. Vruggink said Grigson fit all the criteria for the award. Brees picks the winner after given some information from Vruggink on each candidate.
“This guy came back from a near-death experience and now is having a super successful life,” Vruggink said. “He fits the criteria very well; I guess you could say he was somewhat of a no-brainer this year.”